Friday, June 1, 2012

The Need for Passion

Anyone who has been lucky enough to hear Angela Maiers or Sir Ken Robinson speak, or has read some of their work can understand the need for passion driven education.  Students who believe they matter and that they are doing something meaningful will learn.  Lately, I've heard many others promote education where each student is able to pursue their interests and their passions.  It's a positive trend and a discussion that needs to expand.

What worries me, though, is that teachers are losing their passion.  I can't think of a teacher who didn't enter the profession because they wanted to make a positive difference for the youth of the next generation.  Because of the punitive way standardized tests are being used, the forced use of canned lesson plans, and a system that promotes standardization over student growth, many teachers feel that they are unable to make the kind of difference for their students that they envisioned when they chose their profession.  When you add the anti-teacher rhetoric coming from politicians and business leaders, teacher evaluation systems that put importance on factors outside of a teacher's control, salary cuts, and a growing disrespect for teaching as a profession, it has become very difficult for teachers to maintain or grow their passion.  I've heard many teachers talk about how they would discourage their own children from pursuing a job as a teacher.  As someone who can't think of a job that could possibly give me a better feeling of "I'm doing good", that makes me sad.

It is important for each of us to help foster that passion in our colleagues.  It is imperative that we help each other focus on the positive differences we are making for our students, and not the ways others outside of our schools are finding new ways to put roadblocks in front of our students.  Students with passionate teachers learn more.  Schools with passionate teachers are better learning environments. 

If you see a colleague doing something positive with their students, let them know about it.  Better yet, tell them how it inspired you to do something similar with your students.  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and we don't get positive feedback often enough. 

Share the great things you do with your students.  Talk to colleagues in the faculty room.  Blog.  Develop a PLN and share with them.  Send pictures and descriptions to the local newspaper.  Let your example inspire others. 

Collaborate, collaborate, and then collaborate some more.  Share your ideas with other teachers, even if they aren't complete.  Discuss ideas for lessons, projects, and formative assessments. Get excited together about really cool things you are going to do with your students.

There was a time a few years ago that my passion was starting to wane.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I was even leading professional development sessions on how to raise reading test scores by focusing on test-questions as a new genre.  It sickens me to think about it.  Test scores went up, but I didn't enjoy my job and I'm pretty sure my students weren't enjoying my class as much as they do now.  I was doing a great job of developing kids who could pass tests, but couldn't think, and I was getting little enjoyment out of my job because I knew that what I was doing really didn't matter.  I knew those test scores were meaningless for my students compared to the things I was ignoring, but I was trying to be a "good teacher" according to the rules set forth by those whose concern for my students lags far, far behind their desire to raise campaign funds for reelection. 

I am so thankful that I was introduced to Plurk (and later Twitter and Facebook) where I have grown networks of educators who inspire me daily.  Because of all of you and the interactions we have, I love being a teacher as much as ever, my students are loving school more than ever, and more learning is taking place in my classroom than ever before.  Developing my PLNs has allowed me to rediscover the passion I had for student learning, and helped me realize that the best way to be a "good teacher" is to follow one simple rule:  Do what's best for your students.

*** Special thanks to Maureen Devlin, whose question and follow up conversation on Twitter inspired this post.  Just another example of a way that building one's PLN can give inspiration!


  1. Thanks so much for writing this wonderful post, Michael. It couldn't have come at a better time! You gave me some great tips for spreading the passion and lifting my own work. Thank you.

  2. Mike - I wanted to restate here what I mentioned on FB.

    We, as a professional group, have learned to overcome the stress of canned plans and misguided groups touting the marvel of standardized tests and what they tell us about our kids and their teachers. I'll go a step further and even say that facing these challenges have resolved us even more to teach the kids need to KNOW, not the ones they a test says they should SHOW. For all of the pushback about how we don't produce THINKERS, the tests are designed to be effective only for those who can only think in one linear way that produces results only on a standardized test, but not in real life. Teachers have learned to ignore teaching testing genre, and instead have learned to teach more effectively and to develop broader and deeper critical thinking skills that, only part of which is actually needed for the test, but the rest of which is needed for real-life success.

    OK, that aside. The true challenge to our profession is the parents. Where once we had genuine partners, we now have antagonists who have been told by state and local leaders that they know better what our kids need while ignoring that public education is for everyone and not just their child. Parents too often abdicate their responsibilities from 7:30 to 3:30 so that we must do the role of professional educator and surrogate parent while being micro-managed from outside the classroom by the very people giving up their parenthood. It's no longer a no-win situation. It's a lose-before-we-begin situation.
    Teachers are not right no matter what choice they make, or so it feels. And the energy it takes to enter the room, engage the kids in a genuine learning activity, not to mention the time it takes to plan and assess those things, is completely lost before I get out of bed because I know some parent or other will question some part or other of how I assessed, managed, prepared, or graded something, while not holding their own child accountable for their classroom behavior, homework, or preparation for school.
    Very frustrating. Very demoralizing. Very draining.

  3. Karl,
    I don't know that I agree that we, collectively, as teachers have overcome the culture of standardized testing. Let's put that aside for a second, though.

    I don't disagree with much in your second paragraph. But, unfortunately, there's not much any teacher can do about those issues. I can't make parents better at doing their job, so I choose not to dwell on it. I can only play the hand I'm dealt, so I'll focus on doing that as best I can.

    Regardless of the reasons - be they standardized testing, parents, administrators, or other - we need to help each other find the passion that we had when we chose to be teachers. For me, that started happening when I expanded my support network outside of my school and district and started developing a global PLN. I can't think of many situations I've been in during the past few years about which someone else in my network couldn't offer insight. It's an awesome feeling knowing that some of the most amazing minds in education are available to me whenever I need them.

    That support is why I've found more passion and energy for my job in the past few years. Because when I do something awesome, I've got people who "get it" to share my successes with. And when I'm feeling empty, I've got a great network of people who "get it" to refill my cup with their great ideas, energy, and passion.


  4. Really important stuff here, thank you. The sticky point of how to raise parental involvement deserves a lot of thought. Successful "alternative" schools like the MET are dedicated to parents being partners. Here in my area, we have not only poverty, but rural poverty which is a different animal...add isolation to economic stress.

    Seth Godin in "Stop Stealing Dreams" says, "Just because a kid didn't win the parent lottery doesn't mean they should lose the whole game." But what would it take, family by family, to get that crucial involvement from parents? I don't know, but I think we have to get creative.